The National Zoo in Washington is calling on the public to participate in naming two 18-week-old male Andean bear cubs starting March 16. The cubs will be first seen by the public on March 28, but their chosen names will be revealed on March 26 at a media event.

Involving the public is one of the ways the Smithsonian Institution's popular zoological park is promoting the cultural significance Andean bears have to the Aymara and Quechua communities in the Andes.

To the Aymara, Andean bears are called "Jukumuri" or "Hukumuri." To the Quechua, they are "Ukumari" or just "Ukuku." The animals are believed to keep travelers safe, particularly dancers and musicians, as they troop to the Q'oyllurit, a festival in the Andes mountain, alongside overseeing festivities and acting as mediators between the mountain gods, the Apus, and the people.

Cub No. 1 is rambunctious and wants to be with his mother more than his brother. Cub No. 2 is playful and loves to wrestle but is more laid back compared with Cub No. 1. Possible names for Cub No. 1 are: Larusiri ("giggly" in Aymara); Mayni ("unique"); and Kusisqa ("happy"), while Cub No. 2 may be called: Tusuq ("dancer" in Quechua); Muniri ("loving"); and Wayna ("young").

"By inviting everyone to select the cubs' names, we hope to instill a connection to this charismatic yet vulnerable species," said Dennis Kelly, National Zoo director.

Conservation is essential to the survival of bears in native habitats. A lot has been done in the last five years, and Kelly is proud of the work the National Zoo has contributed.

The bear cubs were born to Andean bears Billie Jean and Cisco in November. Billie Jean, the mother, is eight years old while Cisco, the father, is 21. The cubs have spent most of their time with Billie Jean in a den, with zoo staff keeping close watch via a CCTV camera. Three out of five Andean cub litters born in the last 10 years in zoos in North America are at the National Zoo.

Andean bears are the only bear species in South America. Because they feature beige "spectacles" around their eyes, they are also referred to as "spectacled bears." It is estimated that only 20,000 of these bears are left in the wild, listing them as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Photo: Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo | Flickr

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